The Green Book 5

Green Book 5EDITOR’S NOTE

“In Ireland we have a national apathy about literature . . . It began to descend on us after we became self-governing; before that we were imaginative dreamers.”

— AE to Van Wyck Brooks, 10 October 1932

So wrote the poet, painter, and mystic George William Russell (1867-1935) — better known by his spiritual name AE — less than a year before he left Ireland after a lifetime working to enrich a nation he loved and dedicated himself to. Yet his vision of Ireland as an enlightened society was seemingly at odds with the mass desire for the cultural censorship and social conservatism that coincided with the birth of the Irish Free State.

Today, with the continuation of a crippling austerity policy — which includes the treatment of the arts as commodity, the considered monetisation of our public museums, financial cuts to arts funding, and the budgetary destitution of the National Library, among other similar injuries masquerading as common sense measures — one wonders just exactly how the arts are valued in a nation that still proudly sells itself as “the land of saints and scholars”.

Leaves for the BurningFifty years later, a sentiment similar to AE’s was echoed by author Mervyn Wall (1908-1997) in a fascinating interview (reprinted in this issue) in which he asserts that, “When the new Free State was set up, it settled down to very mundane things . . . since 1922 there has been no inspired leadership whatsoever, leadership that would say here is a small country starting off fresh and here is the opportunity to make something wonderful of it.” But instead of leaving Ireland, as so many of our luminaries did (and still do), Wall wrote a pair of brilliant fantasy novels, The Unfortunate Fursey (1946) and The Return of Fursey (1948), sharply satirising both Church and State — and though they tried, the Irish censors could find no specific reason to ban Wall’s books. Similarly acerbic, his 1952 novel, Leaves for the Burning, with its accumulation of exaggerated and improbable details, is often read as a satire, but as critic Robert Hogan points out, should be considered more of a realistic (“albeit one-sided”) depiction of post-war Ireland. Wall, incidentally, worked for the Arts Council from 1957-1975, and his legacy includes Ireland’s tax exemption for artists scheme, which I might add the current government occasionally talks of abolishing because of its perceived “cost to the taxpayer”. Many of Wall’s comments in this interview, though conducted over thirty years ago, feel just as relevant today.

draculaAlso in this issue you’ll find Kevin Corstorphine’s survey of a selection of stories by Cork-born author Fitz-James O’Brien (1826?-1862). O’Brien left Ireland at a young age, and eventually settled into a bohemian literary lifestyle in New York before perishing in the American Civil War. Corstorphine looks at O’Brien’s better known stories, like “What Was It?” and “The Diamond Lens”, and those less read but equally deserving of examination, such as “The Lost Room” and “A Dead Secret”. We’ve also got an essay by noted Stoker-scholar Elizabeth Miller, who considers in detail the 1901 abridged paperback edition of Dracula. Published during Stoker’s lifetime, and possibly even condensed by his own hand, Miller’s essay sheds just a little more light on the mind of the Dubliner who penned the most influential horror novel of all time. Finally, though Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s bicentenary celebrations are now over, here are two short, but important pieces by Richard Dury and James Machin that are simply too good to pass up: new discoveries that notably expand the ever-growing list of the Invisible Prince’s admirers.

PCS-1-420x640A word should also be said about this issue’s cover painting, “The Princess on the Ridge of the World” by Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951). Pixie, as she was known to her friends, was an accomplished artist who not only illustrated Bram Stoker’s final novel, Lair of the White Worm (1911), but in 1909 contributed the eighty drawings that adorn the iconic Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. The painting on the cover of this issue, which kindly comes to us from the Collection of John Moore, was a gift from Pamela Colman Smith to AE. An inscription on the back of the painting reads: “To AE, with all good wishes to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year and all time. Yours, Pixie. Xmas 1902.” Beside the inscription is a small drawing of a pixie. As a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Pamela Colman Smith was likely introduced to AE through their mutual friend W.B. Yeats. This is the first time “The Princess on the Ridge of the World” has been published.

AE’s comment regarding our national apathy toward literature—and art in general—is provocative and disheartening, and the natural instinct will be to deny it, pointing to one example or another of independent artistry or do-it-yourself creativity existing in Ireland today. And yes, AE’s comment was made nearly a century ago. But I do not think his assertion should be dismissed without first deep consideration tempered with honesty free from national pride.

However, given the gloominess of AE’s words at the start of this piece, I thought we might do well to end it with a comment he made to Seán Ó Faoláin in a letter from 1933, a decidedly more hopeful prescription from the man who helped shepherd into the world writings we now associate with Ireland’s literary identity.

“We have imagined ourselves into littleness, darkness, and ignorance, and we have to imagine ourselves back into light.”

Brian J. Showers
Rathmines, Dublin
17 March 2015

Order The Green Book 5 here.

IMG_0001Contents

“Editor’s Note” Brian J. Showers

“Fitz-James O’Brien: The Seen and the Unseen” by Kevin Corstorphine

“A Story-teller: Stevenson on Le Fanu” Richard Dury

“Arthur Machen and J.S. Le Fanu” James Machin

“Shape-shifting Dracula: The Abridged Edition of 1901″ Elizabeth Miller

“An Interview with Mervyn Wall” Gordon Henderson

Reviews

Digby Rumsey’s Shooting for the Butler (Martin Andersson)

Wireless Mystery Theatre’s Green Tea (Jim Rockhill)

Dara Downey’s American Women’s Ghost Stories in the Gilded Age (Maria Giakaniki)

J.S. Le Fanu’s Reminiscences of a Bachelor (Robert Lloyd Parry)

Charlotte Riddell’s A Struggle for Fame (Jarlath Killeen)

Karl Whitney’s Hidden City (John Howard)

“Notes on Contributors”

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The Green Book 5

Peter Bell’s Strange Epiphanies

PB2BWLast year I had the pleasure of meeting American critic Rick Kleffel from The Agony Column on his visit to Dublin. Rick has been supportive of Swan River Press from the start, and he seems to like a good few of the books we’ve published (though he’s not obliged to, of course!) In advance of his trip, Rick emailed me asking for contact information for authors he could visit with and interview on his extended trip to Ireland and Britain. One of the contacts I gave him was for the author Peter Bell who lives over in York.

Peter had long been a favourite writer of mine. I’d read his work in various anthologies and all the journals: Ghosts & Scholars, All Hallows, Supernatural Tales, among others. But one thing struck me as odd: for as much quality writing by Peter already out there, where was his collection? We’re long overdue a collection by Peter Bell, I thought, and a number of others shared this opinion. As it turned out, Peter had a book in the works with a publisher, but for one reason or another it languished and was never issued, much to everyone’s disappointment.

Strange EpiphaniesAround about this time I asked Peter what was up with his book already in the pipeline. Long story short, he had withdrawn it from the aforementioned publisher, and divided the stories into two separate and more focused collections. The first was a set of mystical tales that would become Peter’s long-awaited first collection and Swan River Press’s fourth hardback publication: Strange Epiphanies (April 2012). The second collection contained stories of a more Jamesian bent and was called A Certain Slant of Light (May 2012) published by my friend and colleague Robert Morgan of Sarob Press. Sadly both are currently out of print. But perhaps something can be done about that . . .

But back to the ever-industrious Rick Kleffel (seriously, this guy reads and reviews a ton of books; have a nose around his website). Just this morning Rick put online the fruits of last year’s meeting with Peter. And it’s fascinating stuff. It makes me want to go back and re-read both Strange Epiphanies and A Certain Slant of Light—and then start scrounging around those journals and anthologies for uncollected stories. But before that I’m going to write to Peter and make sure he’s still working on a second Swan River collection.

15703812The first piece is a review of A Certain Slant of Light. Better late than never, and hopefully you’ll be able to track down a copy. In the review Rick notes the similarities to M.R. James, of course, but rightfully adds that, “Bell’s work bears his own unique stamp, in particular prose that captures numinous detail and protagonists who feel authentically weary of the pace of their own lives, however fast or slow that may be.” It’s not only this weariness, but also a sense of place that I think gives Peter’s writing its power.

The second piece in a seven-minute audio recording of Peter reading from his story “M.E.F.” (from Strange Epiphanies), and then talking with Rick about the story’s genius loci and inspiration for the tale. You can listen to it here.

Next, Rick conducted a much lengthier interview with Peter recorded on location in “a lonely pub in the midst of the wilds of Yorkshire”. It’s a comprehensive chat about Peter’s writing, his literary influences, history, topography, legend, and that ever-important sense of spatial ambiance that marks his writing. You can listen to that interview here.

And just for good measure, you can check out an interview with Peter from 2012 conducted by John Kenny for the Swan River Press website in advance of the publication of Strange Epiphanies. There’s also Rick’s original review of Strange Epiphanies you have have a look at here.

Peter Bell’s writing is worth exploring and even as I type this I lament that his collections are not more easily available. But they are worth seeking out, and I urge you to do so!

Peter Bell’s Strange Epiphanies

George William Russell, AE (1867-1935)

2031_o_george_william_russellOn Friday I decided to go to Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross, just one neighbourhood over from Rathmines, to pay respect to George William Russell (1867-1935), better known by his spiritual name “AE” (short for Aeon; simultaneously the mortal incarnation of the Logos and the representation of the immortal self). AE was a great man of a great many talents: poet, painter, novelist, economist, editor, critic, mystic, pacifist, patriot, literary facilitator, visionary—he was once (and rightfully) called “That myriad-minded man” by Archbishop Gregg (also the title of Henry Summerfield’s excellent biography). AE is largely overlooked today, perhaps because he was never recognised as a master of just one discipline. But, as AE might have joyfully observed, employing his favourite line from Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: “I contain multitudes.”

The occasion of my visit to the cemetery on 10 April was in celebration of AE’s birth in 1867. Though buried in Dublin, AE was an Ulsterman born in Lurgan, a small town in County Armagh. His family moved to Dublin in 1878, and in 1880 he attended the Metropolitan School of Art on Kildare Street where he met his lifelong friend (and occasional antagonist) W.B. Yeats. In their early days both AE and Yeats were explorers of the esoteric, but where Yeats gravitated towards the occult and the totalitarian, AE’s interests lay in the theosophic teachings of Madame Blavatsky, not to mention he was of a considerably more democratic mindset. AE originally dedicated his novel The Avatars (1933) “To W.B. Yeats, my oldest friend and enemy”, but shortly before publication shortened it: “To W.B. Yeats”.

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As a young man in the 1890s, AE lived in the Theosophical Society Lodge at 3 Ely Place (just a block off St. Stephen’s Green) where his mystical murals still adorn the walls. Not far from Ely Place is 84 Merrion Square, where a memorial plaque for AE can be found. It was in the upper offices of this Georgian house that AE edited the Irish Homestead (and later the Irish Statesman), the journal for the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society founded by Sir Horace Plunkett (uncle of Lord Dunsany—another of AE’s many friends). For a time Yeats lived at 82 Merrion Square, and the above cartoon entitled “Chin-angles: Or, How the Poets Passed Each Other” illustrates the anecdote of how Yeats and AE both went to visit the other, only to find they’d passed each other on the street without notice. A bust of AE can be found nearby in Merrion Square Park, head tilted as in the cartoon.

10631134_10203627790752954_1851163487122397552_oAs I left my own house that morning, chin tucked against my chest, I noticed on the floor a large envelope that had been pushed through the mail slot. It contained a wonderfully synchronistic gift from that gentleman-publisher Colin Smythe: a hand-bound letterpress chapbook entitled Memories of AE by Dorothy Moulton-Mayer. I had often wondered how AE might take to certain people, and long ago concluded that he and Algernon Blackwood might have got on quite well. It was with great delight that, according to Moulton-Mayer, AE had indeed read Blackwood—she had spied a copy of The Centaur on his table during a visit. I should have known! Though had AE not read Blackwood, this is the novel I would first have lent him. Moulton-Mayer also apparently knew Arthur Machen, though I don’t suppose we’ll ever know now if she discussed the Welshman with AE. But something tells me the latter had read him nevertheless.

With this illuminating Blackwood connection in mind, I set off west towards Mount Jerome. Around the corner from my own residence once stood AE’s home on Mountpleasant Avenue, where he started writing The House of the Titans (a long poem he wouldn’t finish until late in life). While this house on Mountpleasant is no longer standing, his first home at 6 Castlewood Terrace is, and I passed by it just a few minutes later. However, AE’s house at 17 Rathgar10624061_10203778411878388_7237812060711842277_o Avenue, which is perhaps the home for which he is most remembered, still stands and boasts a worthy memorial plaque. During the early 20th century, this house became a Mecca for poets, politicians, novelists, artists, and various other thinkers, all seeking AE’s conversation, advice, and ever-genial hospitality: Padraic Colum, Patrick Kavanagh, Austin Clarke, Frank O’Connor, Seán Ó Faoláin, Susan Mitchell, Oliver St. John Gogarty, Jack Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Lady Gregory, Lord Dunsany, Sean O’Casey, L.A.G. Strong, Katherine Tynan, George Moore, J.M. Synge, Countess Markievicz, Francis Ledwige, Hugh Lane . . . the list is as ridiculously noteworthy as it is long. And to the twenty-year-old James Joyce, who arrived unannounced one midnight in 1902 clutching a fresh manuscript, AE said, “Young man, there is not enough chaos in your mind to create a world.” Afterwards he wrote to Lady Gregory about the visit, ” . . . [Joyce] sat with me up to 4 a.m. telling me of the true inwardness of things from his point of view.” AE eventually published three of Joyce’s stories that would later be collected in Dubliners, while Joyce went on to portray AE in Ulysses (“A.E.I.O.U.”).

Continuing across Rathmines I cut through Leinster Square and passed the former home of James Stephens (AE’s friend and protégé, and a man who definitely associated with Machen). “He inclined to sit on the top of the morning all day,” wrote Stephens of his friend’s demenour. The arrival of the chapbook earlier in the morning wouldn’t be the only fortuitous moment that day. Towards the end of Leinster cidImage_FOT876ARoad I decided to take a shortcut down a particularly rundown alleyway where I came across some graffiti that I think I will allow to speak for itself.

Finally Mount Jerome, with its familiar flower vendors and the red-faced man in top hat and walking stick greeting visitors at the gate. I bought a bouquet for a fiver. It was the least I could do. Naturally along the way I also stopped to visit an old friend, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. I pulled the spring weeds from his recently restored vault and admired the memorial plaque his friends and family erected in his honour last summer.

IMG_0004At last I arrived at the modest grave of the man born George William Russell. In 1933, after the deaths of his wife Violet and his lifelong friend Horace Plunkett, and the recent formation of Éamon de Valera’ s government (“I curse that man as generations of Irishmen to come will curse him—the man who destroyed our country”), AE sold his house in Rathgar, left Ireland, and eventually settled in England after a lengthy lecturing tour of America.

“Dublin’s Glittering Guy” (as O’Casey once described AE) breathed his last on 10 July 1935 in a nursing home in Bournemouth. Though Yeats had not come (and only telegraphed after a long silence), Gogarty was at his bedside, as was P.L. Travers, AE’s nurse and secretary in his final days. His body was laid out at the offices in 84 Merrion Square, and a procession more than a mile long passed through Rathmines before arriving at Mount Jerome.

Here at the graveside, where I now stood, once were assembled, beside many others, AE’s son Diarmuid, his political foe President de Valera, ex-President W.T. Cosgrave, W.B. Yeats, and Frank O’Connor, who delivered the oration. The most extravagant offering of flowers came from a woman who was once a servant in the Russell household. On being questioned on the costliness of her gift, she declared “I would have died for him.”

I’d brought along my copy of AE’s Selected Poems, published shortly before his death in 1935. In the brief preface, the poet wrote, “If I should be remembered I would like it to be for the verses in this book. They are my choice out of the poetry I have written.” And from this selection I read:

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Should you ever come to Ireland, there are many places you can visit to celebrate AE’s life and works, a good few of which I’ve already listed. The Hugh Lane Gallery often has one of his paintings on display, and a trip to Lissadell House in County Sligo is a must: they have the largest collection of AE’s paintings in the world. In the Armagh County Museum is another exhibition on the life and works of AE, including a number of paintings.

tumblr_mopw1cD0zU1rt17mio1_1280 First editions of AE’s work can be easily procured online, and they are worth the effort. Among the prizes in my own collection are a signed copy of Enchantment and Other Poems (1930) and AE’s novel The Interpreters (1922) inscribed to Gogarty. John Eglinton’s A Memoir of AE (1937) is worth a read, as is the essay collection The Living Torch (1937) edited by Monk Gibbon. Those of a more mystical mindset might like The Candle of Vision (1919; my copy once belonged to Gibbon) or Song and Its Fountains (1932).

IMG_0011My sincere hope is that in the lead-up to the 150th anniversary of AE’s birth, more people will discover and appreciate his contributions to Irish art, literature, and culture.

George William Russell, AE (1867-1935)

Mervyn Wall (1908-1997)

scan0001Now that copies of our new books The Unfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey seem to be arriving (and hopefully read!), I thought I’d gather together here a few bits and pieces for those who might want to know more about the books’ author, Mervyn Wall.

Firstly, if you haven’t already, head over to the RTÉ Radio 1 website and listen to John Bowman’s archive show for last week (29 March) and this week (5 April). Over the course of two episodes, Bowman played interview clips with Wall talking about the Fursey novels, his childhood in Dublin and Germany, and various aspects of Irish society in the mid-20th century. The “Programme Archive” is over on the right hand side of the page, and seems to be available internationally. But don’t delay as it looks like these shows will only be available for five weeks.

Footage of Wall giving a television interview also recently surfaced from the RTÉ Archives. The clip is brief, and in it Wall discusses his impressions of 1916 as a child. You can watch it here.

The Unfortunate FurseyNext up is a fun article written by Mervyn Wall in 1956 called “The Castletown Witch”. The article was published in The Irish Times and describes Wall’s visit to a Museum of Witchcraft on the Isle of Man. Although not stated, Wall’s host at the museum is none other than Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), founder of the modern Wiccan tradition. As it turns out, Gardner was an admirer of the Fursey novels and once even sent Wall a fan letter. (Anyone care to check if the letter’s in the Wall Archive at Trinity?) A different account of Wall’s encounter with Gardner, one in which the latter is mentioned by name, can be found in issue three of the Bram Stoker Society Journal (1991).

Also on our website is an extract from a lengthy interview Wall gave in 1982 on the origins of The Unfortunate Fursey. In it he describes how, during a childhood bout with pleurisy, he asked his sister to bring him back “anything about ghosts” from the local library. What she brought back was a book whose title Wall could never remember (and apparently never found out), but has since been identified as The Phantom World, or, The Philosophy of Spirits, Apparitions, etc. by French abbé Augustin Calmet.

The Return of FurseyThe aforementioned interview with Wall originally appeared in The Journal of Irish Literature: A Mervyn Wall Double Number (January-May 1982). This interview is probably the most in-depth and fascinating commentary on Wall’s life and works available, and we are pleased to say that it will be republished in its entirety in issue five of our journal The Green Book (Spring 2015).

If you’re already a fan of Wall’s Fursey books, then I’d suggest you check out Leaves for the Burning (1952), a novel just as savage and just as hilarious as Wall’s better known satirical fantasies. And of course, if you can find a copy, A Flutter of Wings (1974) is a slim volume that collects together most of Wall’s short stories, many of which are definitely worth a read. If you can find a copy that is!

I’m afraid to say that these days Mervyn Wall is a criminally overlooked Irish author, and one whose writings are perhaps relevant now more than ever. It’s such a pity that none of his other books are currently in print.

In the meantime, we’ve got copies of our new edition of The Unfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey (with introductions by Michael Dirda) over at the Swan River Press website. And if you still need convincing, here are a few reviews. Let me know what you think!

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Mervyn Wall (1908-1997)

Ghost Story Awards 2014

Dreams of Shadow and SmokeWe are pleased to announce that our first anthology, Dreams of Shadows and Smoke: Stories for J.S. Le Fanu, edited by Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers and published on the bicentenary of the author’s birth, has won the inaugural Ghost Story Award for Best Ghost Story Book 2014.

Congratulations are also due to D.P. Watt, whose tale “Shallabalah” (published in the Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter 26) won Best Ghost Story.

We’ve still got copies of Dreams of Shadow and Smoke available on our website for anyone interested—we still have a handful of copies signed by numerous contributors!

Thank you again to everyone who voted and contributed to this project. Below is a note from Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers:

Note from the Editors

We are both delighted to learn that Dreams of Shadow and Smoke: Stories for J.S. Le Fanu has won Best Ghost Story Book for 2014. More to the point, we are grateful that so many readers enjoyed the anthology. In some ways, this award could not have been given to a more appropriate book (bear with us here!): we say this not as editors, but because this book—much like the Ghost Story Awards—reflects a deep admiration for the ghostly tale, and serves as a celebration of our genre as a whole, both past and present. As is always the case with anthologies, the success of this book belongs wholly with the authors whose works define the volume. And despite the debt owed to our nineteenth-century touchstone, we hope the stories in Dreams of Shadow and Smoke show that literature of the uncanny continues to evolve, and we expect that the Ghost Story Awards (surely its very existence reflects a healthy and vibrant genre) will only further promote tales of the supernatural, weird, unheimlich, odd, fantastic, and strange. Anyway, enough said!

Sincerely,
Jim Rockhill & Brian J. Showers

The winning anthology beside Le Fanu's death mask.
The winning anthology beside Le Fanu’s death mask.
Ghost Story Awards 2014